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5 Best Races at Darlington Raceway

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Joshua Lipowski

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There is no track in NASCAR with quite the historical significance of Darlington Raceway. Tucked into the quaint cotton fields of South Carolina, the 1.3 mile egg-shaped track was the first of its' kind, and no track in the world is quite like it. Narrowing down 70+ years of history down to only the five best races is difficult, but not impossible. How do we know that? Because we at the Daily Downforce have the five best Darlington races listed for you here.

There is no track in NASCAR with quite the historical significance of Darlington Raceway. Tucked into the quaint cotton fields of South Carolina, the 1.3 mile egg-shaped track was the first of its’ kind, and no track in the world is quite like it.

Narrowing down 70+ years of history down to only the five best races is difficult, but not impossible. How do we know that? Because we at the Daily Downforce have the five best Darlington races listed for you here.

5. Joey Logano vs William Byron (2022 Goodyear 400)

They say racing at Darlington is akin to racing on a two-lane country road. Byron and Logano found that out last year in the spring at Darlington while racing for the lead in the closing laps. After Byron squeezed Logano into the wall on a late restart, the driver of the 22 car had only one thing on his mind: revenge.

He got that chance with two laps to go, bumping Byron into the outside wall. Logano would set sail for his first career Darlington win. In postrace, it was a classic tale of “he said, he said.”

“You’re not going to put me in the wall and not get anything back,” Logano said to Fox Sports after the race.

Byron’s response, “He’s just an idiot. He does this stuff all the time.”

4. Regan Smith Finally Gets to Keep his Checkered Flag (2011 Showtime Southern 500)

After having his first career Cup Series win at Talladega in 2008 taken away by a penalty, Regan Smith got a second chance at Darlington in 2011. With less than 10 laps to go, Smith elected to stay out under caution to take the lead.

A hard-charging Carl Edwards tried to slice his way through the field in the closing laps. On an overtime restart, Smith held off Edwards by only two car lengths. It was also the first win for Furniture Row Racing.

Add to that a confrontation on pit road between Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick for an accident that set up the green-white-checkered. Harvick tried to confront Busch on pit road, but Busch just drove away pushing Harvick’s car out of the way into the pit wall.

3. Jeff Gordon vs Jeff Burton (1997 Mountain Dew Southern 500)

Since Bill Elliot captured the first “Winston Million” by winning three of the four crown jewel races in 1985, no one had repeated the feat. Jeff Gordon looked to repeat it in his championship wining 1997 season. He had to fend off Jeff Burton to do so.

With three laps to go, Burton passed Dale Jarrett to move up to second, setting his sights on Gordon. As the white flag waved, Burton went underneath Gordon making contact. The two were side-by-side heading into turn one until Burton surprisingly lifted handing Gordon the lead.

Burton could not get back to Gordon’s bumper, and the 24 car of Gordon won the 1997 Southern 500 for a huge payday. An exhausted Gordon muttered two words on the radio after taking the checkered flag, “Holy cow.”

2. Petty vs Waltrip (1979 Rebel 500)

The 1979 Cup Series season was an epic 31 race saga between hall-of-famers Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip. At Darlington in April of 1979, the two swapped the lead eight times in the final 100 miles of the race, and four times in the final five laps.

After a caution on lap 360, Petty and Waltrip swapped the lead as if they were playing musical chairs up front with Donnie Allison looking on. Petty and Waltrip were side-by-side on the final lap with Petty attempting a slide-job heading into turn three. It did not work as Waltrip slipped underneath to take the win.

In the end, it was Petty who got the last laugh on the season. After Waltrip led the points for 26 weeks on the season, Petty would edge Waltrip by 11 points after the final race at Ontario, California (then the smallest Championship margin in history).

1. Have you Ever? (2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400)

It may seem hard to believe now, but in the early 2000s, Darlington Raceway was seemingly on the rocks. With NASCAR’s expansion, traditional tracks in the Carolinas were taken off the schedule. North Wilkesboro was gone seven years earlier, Rockingham was gone the following year, and many believed Darlington could be in that same category.

Well, Darlington proceeded to produce its’ best race in 2003. In the final laps, Ricky Craven came from three seconds back to catch the ailing 97 car driven by Kurt Busch. Craven’s first shot came with two laps to go, but Busch would bump him out of the way in turn two.

On the final turn of the final lap, Craven dove underneath Busch, but Busch would slam into Craven as the two careened towards the finish line. Craven would fight his way to the line barely beating Busch by 0.002 seconds, then the shortest margin on victory in NASCAR history.

There are loads of other races that could have been chosen from for this list. Could this weekend be another to add to the long list of great Darlington races?

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Picture of Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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